Metros, wind farms and skyscrapers: the biggest urban projects to hit Africa in 2015

Dar es Salaam: Africa's fastest-growing city. Image: Getty.

Cities in Africa are growing fast. Over the past 50 years, the continent's urban population has doubled, from 19 per cent to 39 per cent; and by 2030 that population is expected to almost double again.

As a result, projects across the continent are springing up to meet the new wave of urban dwellers. Here are a few developments to watch out for in 2015. 

A brand-new metro system

Testing has started on the US$475m light rail project in Addis Ababa, expected to be running by May 2015. Stretching for a combined 32km, two lines dividing Addis Ababa north-south and east-west will serve 39 stations in underground and overground sections.

Africa’s tallest skyscraper 

 Image: Middle East Development LLC.

The Al Noor Tower is a 114-floor skyscraper planned for the Moroccan city of Casablanca. At 540m, it's set to be the tallest in Africa and will cost over $1bn to construct.

The final height is meant to act as a tribute to the 54 countries that make up the African continent,  and the mixed-use building would house a seven-star luxury hotel, art gallery, spa, fine-dining restaurants and luxury boutiques, alongside an exhibition centre and offices.

Africa's biggest wind farm

Kenya has officially given the go-ahead for a giant wind farm in the Lake Turkana region. The farm will play host to almost 400 turbines, is expected to produce around 300 MW of electricity, and according to a media statement will save Kenya approximately $78m in fuel imports every year. The project aims to produce 20 per cent of the country’s current installed electricity generating capacity when it comes online in 2016.

This will be a wind farm soon, we promise. Image: Lake Turkana Wind Power.

The fastest-growing city

Work begins on a Dar es Salaam highrise in April 2014. Image: Getty.

In a recent report, the African Development Bank predicted that Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, will be Africa’s fastest growing city between 2010 and 2025, growing from 3.3 million to 6.2 million people – an 85 per cent increase. Nairobi, Kenya, and Kinshasa, DRC, are expected to be the second and third fastest growing cities by 2025, at 77.3 per cent and 71.8 per cent respectively.

A city built from scratch 

Work has started on a "new city" in Modderfontein, Johannesburg, which is expected to cost around 84bn South African rand ($7bn). Improbably, it's expected to look like this:

A city of giant pimples.Image: Shanghai Zendai Property.

According to The Business Report, so far they've started small with construction on 300 residential units and a few roads. 

Rashiq Fataar is the founder, Editor in Chief and Managing Director of Future Cape Town, where this article was first posted.

 


 

 
 
 
 

In many ways, smart cities are really very dumb

Rio de Janeiro’s control centre. Image: Getty.

It’s not news that anything and everything is increasingly being prefaced with “smart”: phones, watches, homes, fridges, and even water (yes, smartwater exists). And it’s not unintentional either. 

Marketeers know that we, the public, are often stupid enough to believe that thanks to their technology, life is better now than it was way back in, say, the primitive Nineties. Imagine having to, like a Neanderthal, remember how to spell words without an autocorrecting algorithm, or open the fridge door to check if you’d run out of milk, or, worse still, interact with actual people.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re now also witnessing the rise of the so-called “smart cities”; a concept which presupposes that cities that are not technologically  “smart” are dumb, which, as anyone interested in the millennia-old history of cities — from the crypto-currency grain storage algorythms of ancient Mesopotamia to the complex waste infrastructure of ancient Rome, to London’s public transport infrastructure — will know, is not true.

Deployed in these smart cities are cameras and other networked information-gathering devices, load cells and other “sensing devices” detecting passing pedestrians and vehicles, audio surveillance devices listening for gunshots – and even vending machines equipped with biometric sensors to recognise your face. This is not to mention beacon technology — tiny anonymous looking black boxes hidden in trees and on lampposts — which transmits advertising, offers and other information directly to smart phones in the vicinity. 

If that doesn’t seem sinister enough, take, for example, Rio de Janeiro, where, in 2014, the International Business Machines Corporation designed a mammoth “control centre” that integrates data from 30 agencies for the city’s police. 

Described by the Guardian as having “the functionality of a Bond villian’s techno lair”, the then local mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed the centre was making the city safer while using technology to deploy its “special” police unit to carry out the state’s “pacification programme”. Launched in 2008, the programme, which aims to push out drug gangs from Rio’s favelas, has been criticised by Amnesty International: “in January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78 per cent increase in comparison to the same period in 2016”.

Sinister or not, as smart cities grow, they create new problems. For example, as urbanist Adam Greenfield writes in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, neither the algorithms nor their designers are subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability – a problem that international academics are currently attempting to tackle.  


“We need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act,” writes Greenfield. “The architects of the smart city have utterly failed to reckon with the reality of power.”

The Real Smart Cities project, founded by Dr Gerald Moore, Dr Noel Fitzpatrick and Professor Bernard Stiegler, is investigating the ways in which so-called “smart city” technologies present a threat to democracy and citizenship, and how digital tools might be used create new forms of community participation.

Fitzpatrick is critical of current discourses around smart cities, which he says “tend to be technical fixes, where technology is presented as a means to solve the problems of the city.” The philosophy underpinning the project is “that technologies function as forms of pharmacology”, he adds, meaning that they can be both positive and negative. “The addictive negative effects are being felt at an individual and collective level.” 

An example of this lies in the way that many of these smart cities replace human workers with disembodied voices — “Alexa we need more toilet roll” — like those used to control the Amazon Echo listening device — the high priestess of smart home. These disembodied voices travel at the speed of light to cavernous, so-called “fulfilment centres”, where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-it-now, one-click impulse commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless aisles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a crime novel might be more likely to go on and buy cat food, a wireless router, a teapot and a screwdriver. 

Oh to be the archeologists of the future who while digging through mounds of silicon dust happen upon these vast repositories of disembodies voices. That the digital is inherently material and the binary of virtual/real does not hold — there is no cyberspace, just space. Space that is being increasingly populated by technologies that want to watch you, listen to you, get to know you and sense your presence.

One project looking to solve some of the problems of smart cities is that of the development of a “clinic of contribution” within Pleine Commune in greater Paris (an area where one in three live in poverty).This attempts to deal with issues of communication between parents and children where the widespread use of smartphones as parental devices from infancy is having effects on the attention of young children and on the communicative abilities between parents and children. 

This in turn forms part of a wider project in the area that Stiegler describes as “installing a true urban intelligence”, which moves beyond what he sees as the bankrupt idea of smart cities. The aim is to create a “contributory income” in the area that responds to the loss of salaried jobs due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. 

The idea being that an income could be paid to residents, on the condition that they perform a service to society. This, if you are unemployed, living in poverty and urban deprivation, sounds like quite a simple and smart idea to try and solve some of the dumb effcts of the digital technology that's implemented in cities under the ideology of being “smart”.